Types of Conclusions

Learning Objectives

Describe the different types of conclusions.

As the famous saying goes, “it’s not over ‘til it’s over.” In a race, losing focus and energy no matter how close to the finish line can lose a race. In those final moments, a poorly conceived lasting thought can break the spell of a good speech and cause the audience to disengage, losing confidence in the speaker and the importance of the speech itself. To keep the energy and focus of your speech until the very last word, a good speaker employs a concluding device.

Low-Order Concluding Devices

  1. Rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is one to which no reply is expected, but instead invites the audience to consider something.
    • “The next time you see that spicy, smelly, fermented red dish, will you pass or will you dig in?”
  2. Quotation. This concluding device uses the words of another person that relate directly to your topic. If the person you are quoting is not well known, it is a good idea to provide information as to why that person is relevant in the context of your speech.
    • “As we’ve learned today, kimchi is so much more than a simple condiment or even meal. When you think about kimchi, consider the words of American novelist Jonathan Safran Foer: ‘Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving, and identity.”

High-Order Concluding Devices

  1. Posters of a woman flexing her bicep, Uncle Sam pointing at the viewer, and a bear holding a shovel and pointing at the viewer

    These posters of Rosie the Riveter, Uncle Sam, and Smokey the Bear are all examples of calls to action.

    Call to action. A call to action is an explicit appeal to your audience members to take specific action. Since no new ideas should be presented in your conclusion, it is important that the call to action stems from the ideas mentioned in the speech by concretizing and providing actionable steps that each audience member can perform. A good call to action has the following components:

    1. Clear and direct. Begin with a strong action verb and state exactly what action the audience should take, when, where, and to or with whom
    2. Immediate. The longer that time elapses, the less likely the audience will be to act, regardless of how well you may have convinced them. A successful call to action will be an action they can perform before leaving the room or, if necessary, that day.
    3. Lowers barriers to action. The first, small action leads to more complex action. In order to help the audience make the first step, you must make that action very easy to complete. Bring in any necessary forms, information, or products for the audience to use. Start a process, like a petition or a form letter, so that the audience just needs to sign or join. Create a small task that is easily completed so the audience members can act immediately and with little risk.
    4. Focuses on the benefits to the audience. Surround the call to action with how it will improve the audience’s life by focusing on the same values you used in the introduction to provide a reason to listen.
    5. Personalized to the power of various roles of audience members. In some speeches, the topic equally affects everyone in your audience. In others, audience members each have different roles that either contribute to or are affected by your topic. Asking a student to complete an action that only a college president has access to will likely discourage those students. Instead, using your audience analysis, consider the power and the limitations of the roles that comprise your audience and provide actions for each role.

    Of course, the call to action makes the most sense if your speech is persuasive, but you can also provide a call to action with an informative or ceremonial speech simply by providing a way for the audience to use or channel the information provided. This concluding device is a wonderful way to leave your audience empowered and motivated.

    • “I’ve brought homemade kimchi with me today, already separated into single servings. Improve your gut health, build your spice tolerance, and taste the culture of Korea. Take one and try it. I’ve listed the ingredients in case of allergies. If you’ve got allergies, I’ve printed out recipes with substitutions that you can try at home. Take one, and let the class know how it turned out.”

To Watch: Andy Puddicombe, “ALl it takes is 10 mindful Minutes”

In this TED talk, Puddicombe talks about the power of mindfulness and meditation. For our purposes, let’s focus on the conclusion of his speech. The title lets us know in advance where this thing is going. Puddicombe ends with a call to action: “We can’t change every little thing that happens to us in life, but we can change the way that we experience it. That’s the potential of meditation, of mindfulness. You don’t have to burn any incense, and you definitely don’t have to sit on the floor. All you need to do is to take 10 minutes out a day to step back, to familiarize yourself with the present moment so that you get to experience a greater sense of focus, calm and clarity in your life.” Note how this call to action fulfills all five requirements outlined above: It is clear and immediate, has a low barrier to action, focuses on the benefit to the audience, and offers all audience members an action they can perform.

You can view the transcript for “All it takes is 10 mindful minutes | Andy Puddicombe” here (opens in new window).

What to watch for:

Note how Puddicombe uses a prop to add interest and movement to his speech. We spend the first four minutes of the speech wondering why he’s holding three balls in his left hand. Eventually, we learn that they act as a memorable visual metaphor for different kinds of thought patterns (and Puddicombe gets to show off his juggling skills).

  1. Visualize the future. This conclusion device helps to set the tone that you want the audience to have at the end of your speech. By illustrating how the information provided can create a better or more interesting future to your specific audience, you can motivate your audience to act or to reflect on the importance of what was said in your speech. This was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s strategy in his famous speech to the House of Commons on June 18, 1940: “Let us, therefore, brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for thousands of years, men will say: ‘This was their finest hour.'”[1]
    • In our hypothetical speech on Kimchi, we might envision future unity: “Imagine a world where a taste and a smell are a shared national experience. Where all it takes is a shared dish of kimchi to unite strangers.”

To watch: Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize Lecture 2014

In the conclusion (start at 25:24) of her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, activist Malala Yousafzai combines a call to action with a vision of the future. “I call upon my fellow children to stand up around the world,” she says. “Dear sisters and brothers, let us become the first generation to decide to be the last. The empty classrooms, the lost childhoods, wasted potential—let these things end with us. Let this be the last time that a boy or a girl spends their childhood in a factory. Let this be the last time that a girl gets forced into early child marriage. Let this be the last time that an innocent child loses their life in war. Let this be the last time that a classroom remains empty. Let this be the last time that a girl is told education is a crime and not a right. Let this be the last time that a child remains out of school. Let us begin this ending. Let this end with us. And let us build a better future right here, right now.” Note Yousafzai’s use of repetition in this conclusion, with the repeated exhortation “Let this be the last time…”

You can view the transcript for “Malala Yousafzai: Nobel Peace Prize Lecture 2014” here (opens in new window).


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